Sein, (literally, "breast"); a tiny island in the regional natural park of Armorica, off the coast of the Pointe du Raz in Finistere, is essentially the highest point of a mostly submerged reef. The island is only a kilometre long, 800 metres wide, and 6 metres above sea-level at its highest point, completely treeless, and has already been completely submerged several times, but with a population of 250 still living on the island, who mainly earn a living from fishing.
These extreme conditions make for brave men, and those of Sein were not reluctant to answer their country's call during the Second World War. When General de Gaulle appealed from exile in London in June 1940 for volunteers to fight for France, all the able-bodied men of the island went to join him. There were 150 of them - a quarter of those who volunteered from the whole of France. After the end of the war, the whole island was given the Order of the Liberation in thanks for their action, and were exempt from income tax - a privilege they still enjoy today.
The island attracted a tough type of woman too; in pre-Roman times, the island, then called Enez Sizun - the isle of the magicians - was inhabited by Celtic priestesses, and a druidic graveyard was apparently sited somewhere on the island, which was much larger in those days.
And the islanders' determination has not ebbed over the years - their little village is listed as one of "les plus beaux villages de France"; a label that requires considerable effort from local residents to ensure that their community meets the high standards required.
The reef of Sein has two powerful lighthouses to warn ships from the surrounding treacherous shallow, rock-infested waters - the Sein lighthouse, visible from 50 kilometres away, was built in 1838, only to be rebuilt in 1945 after the retreating Germans had destroyed it.
The Ar Men light perches on a tiny rock 10 kilometres away at the westernmost end of the reef, and took 14 years to build. Not so surprising when you learn that the first year's construction was so hampered by weather conditions and tides that only 8 hours of useful work were completed!
Even today wise sailors steer clear of the Sein reef; "Qui voit Sein voit sa fin" - "Who sees Sein sees his end", goes a local saying.
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